Whitesburg KY
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Roads to be fixed, fiscal court is told

Several of Letcher County’s major roads are scheduled for resurfacing sometime this year, a Kentucky Department of Transportation official told the Letcher County Fiscal Court this week.

At the fiscal court’s March meeting Monday night, the DOT’s Ken Mullins said US 119 and KY 805 are near the top of the list of roads to get new paving. Mullins said the state plans to pave US 119 up to the intersection with US 23 at Jenkins and Highway 805 to the Pike County line. Both roads have been the subject of many complaints, both from local officials and private citizens.

Mullins made the statement while he was delivering the report on the Transportation Cabinet’s Rural Secondary Road Program. He told the court that $1.4 million has been allotted for Letcher County. That amount includes vehicle maintenance and other factors that go along with road construction. He said that every road in the county is in need of some repairs and pointed to several rural roads that are dangerous and must be addressed. He added that because of weather and other factors, there are no roads in the county that are in good shape.

County Road Foreman Jason Back also addressed the subject of poor road conditions and said that recent rains had done a tremendous amount of damage by causing slides, undercutting roads, and other water-related damage. Back said that county road workers are doing a great job but the damage is so great it is hard to stay on top of it. He said there still hasn’t been time to implement regular maintenance and cleanup schedules because “we are playing catchup” with the weather damages.

Back said the county’s road equipment is being stretched thin because there is so much road damage. He added that he is confident the county will have no trouble meeting qualifications for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but said that even if FEMA pays for 80 percent of the damage, “it will be a struggle” for the county government to pay the remaining 20 percent. He also the county is being forced to “be a banker” while it waits for FEMA funds to arrive.

Back said he has applied for state emergency funding and has also applied for money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for stream mitigation. He asked for citizens to be patient.

In other business, the court voted unanimously to approve the Letcher County Jail’s budget for Fiscal Year 2019-20. Jailer Bert Slone presented the budget, which has total receipts of $1,079,278 against expenditures of $1,079,278. Slone said the housing of “controlled intake inmates” who have already been tried and sentenced is one of the jail’s largest sources of money. In this year’s budget, controlled intake housing accounts for $290,000 in receipts. Personnel expenditures, salaries, training account for the largest portion of expenditures, $565,778.

Slone, who is in his first term as jailer, said he is impressed with the quality of his staff and that he wishes he could afford to pay them more. He said he is forced to start new employees at minimum wage ($7.50 per hour) but added that he expects new employees to perform at a high standard. He said that being a jail employee in any capacity is a difficult job, and that he hopes to be able to raise pay when conditions permit.

The court also voted unanimously to release bonds held by natural gas company EQT for potential damage to roads. EQT has not operated in Letcher County since July 2018, when it sold its Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia holdings for $575 million to Diversified Gas & Oil, a company founded in London England in 2014 with U.S. headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama. Diversified holds the bonds now.

The court also voted to rent recreational vehicle facilities and shelter management at Fishpond Lake to the Letcher County Tourism Commission. Judge/ Executive Terry Adams said the Tourism Commission is better suited to operate the facilities at the park than the county, but said the county will still maintain the park and keep it clean. Back said there are 16 RV sites at Fishpond — 14 full-size and two smaller ones.

The court also heard a disturbing report from Whitesburg Little League President Mike Sexton concerning a burglary at Ernest Cook Memorial Park in Whitesburg. Sexton said that thieves broke into the concession stand last week and did about $16,000 damage in vandalism while stealing equipment including pizza ovens, Crockpots, a hotdog warmer, and a Honda ATV. Sexton said that two arrests have been made and some of the cooking equipment has been recovered, but he doesn’t think it can be reused.

The court entered into a lease agreement with the Little League to allow it to operate the baseball portion of the Ernest Cook Park and agreed to help with security. Sexton said the Little League wants to keep the gate at the bottom of the hill locked at night to limit access. The Whitesburg Police Department has agreed to help with patrols and will see that the gate is unlocked around 6:30 a.m. to allow walkers to use the walking track. Sexton said he would see that it is locked by 10:30 p.m., and the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department will also keep an eye on the park.

The lease agreement calls for the county to be paid $1,600 prior to the beginning of each season and the renter must provide certification naming Letcher County as additionally insured.

Adams also announced that the Letcher County Historical Society will turn over a fund related to the late Martin Van Buren Bates to the Tourism Commission. The fund can only be used for a monument to Bates, who was known as the “Kentucky Giant” at time of his death in January 1919. The Guinness Book of World Records states that Bates, a Letcher County native, stood at 7 feet 7.5 inches tall and weighed 328 pounds.

Adams also announced that April is PRIDE Cleanup month and said that fees at the transfer station at Millstone will be suspended for the entire month of April for Letcher County residents who take large items to the station. He added that the transfer station would be open on Saturdays in April from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. in addition to its regular hours.

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